A Brief History of the Technopolis in Athens
What is the Technopolis?
The Technopolis is a former gasworks in Athens that has been turned into a cultural complex that holds events, concerts and festivals.
Nothing dominates the Athenian skyline like the Acropolis. In fact, planning laws place limits on structures that could restrict views of the complex of buildings often venerated as the cradle of western civilisation. Being able to see the Parthenon from wherever you are in the city is held almost as an inalienable right, and it’s therefore no surprise that the rest of the Athenian skyline is not crowded with famous landmarks. These tall brick chimneys and metal gas holders, however, are a notable exception. Once housing Athens’s principal gasworks, the towers still command the skyline west of the city centre; from the right viewpoint, they cast a strong silhouette on the horizon as the sun sets each day over the neighbourhood of Gazi.
In a story repeated in cities all around the western world, what was once industrial has been appropriated by the cultural sphere. The old gasworks has been converted into a vibrant cultural complex called Technopolis. Every year, the site plays host to a wealth of events, concerts and festivals, such as the Athens Technopolis Jazz Festival. Many of these events are free and should not be missed if you’re in Athens at the right time. For all its dynamic forward energy the new institution is keen to acknowledge its heritage: it’s also home to the Industrial Gas Museum.
The Athens gasworks was established in 1857 and played a major role in the city’s transition from a small, backward and economically underperforming city, clustered in the shadow of the Acropolis and marginalised by the Ottoman Empire of which it was part, into a modern, industrialised city, as it became by the end of the 19th century and remains to this day. The requirement for workers to power the rapidly expanding gasworks drove the formation, and organisation, of Athens’ new urban working class through the 19th century and into the 20th. These workers and their families left a mark on the neighbourhood which endures decades since the gasworks ceased operations in 1984.
The gasworks gave its name to the neighbourhood that sprung up around it to house its workers: Gazi. Like many contemporary neighbourhoods hastily and cheaply constructed to accommodate a booming urban proletariat, quality of life was often low both by contemporary standards and those of the time: most workers lived in cramped dwellings with few rooms; the lucky ones among them enjoyed large gardens.
Services soon appeared to cater to this new workforce and brothels proliferated to such an extent that ‘gazi’ means brothel in today’s Greek slang. Despite the area’s poor reputation, the crime rate was not noticeably higher than anywhere else in the city. Gazi provided sanctuary for generations who flooded in from the countryside, islands and further afield. Many of the Greek refugees from the extensive communities in Asia Minor settled here in the 1920s and a large number of Muslims from northern Greece arrived following troubles in 1967. Today, Gazi is still radically multicultural, with significant numbers of Greek Muslim, Albanian and Romanian residents.
After its closure in 1984, the Ministry of Culture gave the gasworks historic preservation status and in 1999 the whole complex was reopened as the Technopolis cultural complex. The brothels may have gone but the area has stayed true to its informal ethos of shabby, decadent tolerance; Gazi is now one of the most popular areas to go out in Athens, overflowing with restaurants, bars and nightclubs. The city’s first gay club, Sodade, opened here in 1999 and Gazi remains the centre of the city’s LGBT party scene.
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